Women Are Almost Half of Carnegie Mellon's Incoming Computer Science Undergraduates

Achievement Caps Decades of Effort to Increase Gender Diversity

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Women make up more than 48 percent of incoming first-year undergraduates this fall in the School of Computer Science — setting a new school benchmark for diversity.

Women make up more than 48 percent of incoming first-year undergraduates this fall in Carnegie Mellon University's top-ranked School of Computer Science (SCS), setting a new school benchmark for diversity.

SCS has long been a national leader in increasing the participation of women in computer science, a discipline in which women have been significantly underrepresented nationwide.

A 38 percent increase in the number of women who applied for admission with SCS as their first choice contributed to this year's record enrollment, said Guy Blelloch, associate dean for undergraduate programs.

"Even though we've increased enrollment, our admissions have become more competitive," Blelloch said, noting that average SAT scores, grade point averages and class rank were up for this year's incoming class. "For example, the average combined math-reading SAT score for women went from 1537 last year to 1552 this year. It's identical to that for men and significantly higher than the overall average SATs at top schools such as MIT, Harvard and Stanford."

Women and men are judged by the same standards for admission, and retention rates historically have been the same for both, he noted.

"Parity in numbers, record SAT scores, class rankings and retention!" said Lenore Blum, professor of computer science. "This is an amazing milestone and the happy outcome of CMU taking the leadership role in increasing the participation of women in computer science, particularly in the most rigorous undergraduate CS program on the planet."

Blum was instrumental in establishing Women @ SCS, a faculty/student organization that helps women make connections across the school, and in recognizing that it's the computer science culture — not the curriculum — that needs to change to accommodate women.

Carol Frieze, director of Women @ SCS, said interviews with undergraduate students in SCS show that women feel involved in the computer science culture and have the same level of social and academic fit as the men. What women need to succeed in computer science — and what Women @ SCS helps to provide — is the same sort of social networking and opportunities that many men take for granted, she added.

"By leveling the professional playing field, Women @ SCS has made CMU a destination of choice for talented women who are considering careers in computer science," Blum said.

Frieze and co-author Jeria Quesenberry explain CMU's cultural transformation in a new book, "Kicking Butt in Computer Science: Women in Computing at Carnegie Mellon University."

The school's percentage of women among all undergraduates for the past academic year was 30 percent, well above the national average of 16.5 percent for the undergraduate computer science programs in the Computing Research Association's Taulbee Survey. This year's record number of female first-years at SCS will push that percentage even higher — to 36 percent — for the 2016-2017 academic year.

 "Computer science at Carnegie Mellon has a very social atmosphere," Blelloch said. "Most of the classes encourage students to work in groups, developing skills they will need to function in teams in the workplace. It's one of the reasons employers like our graduates so much."

This year's class of first-year undergraduates numbers 166, making it about 30 percent larger than previous classes. SCS decided to expand undergraduate enrollment in response to the growing need for computer scientists in industry.

Byron Spice | 412-268-9068 | bspice@cs.cmu.edu